College of the Week

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Each week, Royal will provide insight into unique college options for students & families. Our source is the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020 - an annual comprehensive catalog of diverse universities here in California and nationwide.

Austin College

THIS WEEK: Austin College

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Enrollment: 1,215

Acceptance Rate: 52%

DETAILS: For historical reasons over which reasonable persons can and do disagree, the Kangaroo has become the symbol of all things Austin College. All freshmen receive ’Roo Crew T-shirts at orientation, students hold a trick-or-treat alternative known as ’Roo Boo for local children, and the online career management system is known as ’Roo Connect. AC’s preprofessional programs, most notably premed, are among the strongest in the state. Professors here even serve students breakfast at 10 p.m. the night before finals. It’s just another example of the personal style that is typical of this charming Southern institution. “You feel comfortable and safe at Austin College,” says a sophomore. “It becomes your second home.”

The core curriculum begins with a freshman seminar called Communication/Inquiry. Each professor who teaches the course becomes the mentor for the 20 freshmen in his or her class. Then students select from courses in three categories in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Students can combine three of the school’s majors into an interdisciplinary degree, and all must complete one major and a minor or a double major to graduate. During the January term, students can focus on just one course, and many use that time to study abroad or undertake off-campus internships.

Of the academic climate, a chemistry major says, “It is competitive enough to push you to do the best work you can, yet very collaborative through working with peers on group projects, lab assignments, research experiences, and other tasks.” Sixty-seven percent of all classes have fewer than 20 students. “Teachers always make time for students, they’re approachable, and the mentor program really helps when it comes to registering for classes and looking for summer research programs or internships,” says a student. The college also offers independent study and departmental honors programs. The Posey Leadership Institute offers seminars and courses, and a minor in leadership studies is available. AC also provides five research areas in Grayson County. Thirty-three percent of students conduct undergraduate research and 60 percent study abroad each year. The Global Outreach fellowship program gives 10 to 15 students the chance to volunteer in educational programs around the world.

AC Student Perspective: “Everyone is intelligent in a deep and insightful way. They enjoy the little things in life and welcome new ideas and experiences.”

Birmingham–Southern College

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Enrollment: 1,272

Acceptance Rate: 62%

DETAILS: BSC is now striving to prepare students for all aspects of the modern world, with high-tech facilities and a more global curriculum. More than half the student body participates in community service through the Bunting Center for Engaged Study and Community Action, and attentive faculty add to a sense of commitment to both personal and community growth. A junior says BSC is a good choice for those students who “want to spend four years preparing, maturing, and challenging their minds so that they can make a difference in the world.”

The Explorations general education curriculum is designed to help students develop effective communication and problem-solving skills, connect with their social and political world, and direct their own learning. It comprises 32 units across several disciplines, including fine and performing arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities, as well as three global and local citizenship courses. All freshmen take an introductory first-year seminar, and all seniors complete a capstone experience and a public presentation of their work. The Explorations term, a four-week term between the fall and spring semesters, allows students to explore new areas of study, from cooking lessons to travel in China.

The courses at BSC are “somewhat competitive” and “challenging but not impossible,” according to one senior. Each student is assigned a faculty member who serves as his or her academic advisor from freshman convocation to graduation, an arrangement that students praise for its effectiveness. Equal praise goes out to faculty in the classrooms, where 65 percent of classes have fewer than 20 students. An education major says professors “love to challenge our beliefs and ideas by making us defend what we think.” The honors program allows 25 exceptional first-year students to take small seminars with one or more professors. The Krulak Institute coordinates opportunities for experiential learning, such as service-learning projects, study abroad programs, and an entrepreneurial scholars program.

BSC Student Perspective: “Students want to spend four years preparing, maturing, and challenging their minds so that they can make a difference in the world."


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Enrollment: 1,440

Acceptance Rate: 76%

DETAILS: Centre College, the only independent school in Kentucky with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, has produced two-thirds of the state’s Rhodes scholars over the last 40 years. Centre’s small size offers an intimate classroom environment. And its liberal arts focus means that despite Centre’s southern location, students are progressive, intellectual, and perhaps more well-rounded than their peers at neighboring schools. “We have an amazing balance of ‘Northern academics’ paired with ‘Southern hospitalities,’” says a sophomore.

General education requirements include basic skills in expository writing, math, and foreign language and two courses in four contexts—aesthetic, social, scientific, and fundamental questions. Students must also take a computer seminar. Required first-year seminar courses are offered during the three-week January “CentreTerm.” Capped at 15 students each, they offer a chance to explore off-beat topics such as cloning, baseball in American politics, and coffee-shop culture.

The Centre Commitment guarantees students an internship or research experience, study abroad, and a degree in four years. Eighty-five percent of any given class takes advantage of Centre’s extensive study abroad programs. Centre runs regular semester-long programs for students in all majors in China, England, France, Japan, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Spain, in addition to several others offered during the January term. Study-away semesters in Washington, D.C., and Chicago combine coursework with internships. Approximately 82 percent of students engage in an internship or perform collaborative research with faculty.

CC Student Perspective: “Our small class sizes allow professors to really feed off of the energy and needs of the class and make it a more personal environment.”


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Enrollment: 2,187

Acceptance Rate: 56%

DETAILS: Clark University’s motto is “Challenge Convention, Change Our World,” an idea that students and faculty alike at this small university take to heart. “All aspects of [the school], from the dining hall menus to the syllabi in literally every department, focus on how students can make the world a better place whether it be social, environmental, geopolitical, economic, medical, or anything in between.” Therefore, it’s not too surprising that undergrads report that they are encouraged to “actively [connect] their academics to something bigger and more meaningful.” Moreover, they’re also quick to note that Clark is both “a small liberal arts college [and] a research university,” an incredible combination that affords many academic opportunities. Clarkies are privy to “phenomenal” professors who “care deeply about each and every student.” They push students students to “engage in discourse that may seem uncomfortable or foreign,” and they are “very willing to help students outside of class.” As one amazed undergrad elaborates, “I can’t tell you the number of times professors that I maybe only had one time went above and beyond for me—writing recommendations, forwarding me calls for conference abstracts, helping me find research opportunities, and more.” All in all, Clark is a “liberal arts school that challenges academic conventions and its own inner-workings to constantly give its students chances to grow.”

Clark Student Perspective: “People don't fit into boxes here. Someone could be a star athlete and a great actor majoring in biology and English. I love that about Clark; everyone is so uniquely them, but also very down-to-earth and not caught up in themselves all the time.”

Cornell College

THIS WEEK: Cornell College

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Enrollment: 1,000

Acceptance Rate: 65%

DETAILS: Cornell College attracts the type of student who seeks an intense yet flexible, self-designed program and a liberal, progressive atmosphere in which to solidify strict habits and routines. It suits those who aren’t satisfied with easy answers, don’t mind heading to the rural Midwest, and do want loads of personal attention while focusing on one class. “If you want a normal college experience, don’t pick Cornell,” warns one student, but “if you want to pour yourself into a class for three and a half straight weeks and feel exhausted but accomplished,” Cornell may be just the right fit.

Aside from its distinctive schedule (shared by only one other school, Colorado College), Cornell has one of only two U.S. college or university campuses listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places. The majestic bell tower of King Chapel offers an unparalleled view of the Cedar River valley. A pedestrian mall runs through campus, and other campus facilities include suite-style residence halls for 96 upper-class students. The school’s Cole Library is also the town of Mount Vernon’s public library, one of only two such libraries in the country. Cornell’s student center, Thomas Commons, recently underwent a complete interior renovation, including a redesigned dining hall, the Hilltop Café; a new entryway and grand foyer; an indoor-outdoor fireplace; new classrooms, meeting spaces, and study rooms; and a new glass-enclosed dining room with panoramic views of campus.

Current general education requirements include two humanities courses, one math, one science, one social science, and one fine arts, as well as at least 124 semester hours to graduate. Freshmen must take a first-year seminar and a writing-intensive course, and all students complete a capstone project. Block scheduling makes it easier for some students to graduate early; others use the flexibility to finish with a double major. A sophomore explains, “At Cornell, a semester’s worth of work is completed in a month. This makes for a fast-paced class that is normally composed of a couple papers, maybe some annotations, a midterm, a final, and a final project.” A biology and Spanish double major adds, “Each class is pretty intense.” If that sounds intimidating, it can be. But administrators say it also improves the quality of Cornell’s liberal arts education by helping students acclimate to the business world, where “what needs to be done needs to be done quickly and done well.” The One Course method also helps in academic advising—with grades every four weeks, signs of trouble are quickly apparent.

CC Student Perspective: “‘Cornell weird’ is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot and it’s accurate. With the block plan and a variety of interests to offer to students, there is no singular way to describe a Cornellian other than unique.”


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Enrollment: 5,486

Acceptance Rate: 58%

DETAILS: The only major midsized private university between Tulsa and the West Coast. DU’s campus in residential Denver is pleasant, and brochures tout Rocky Mountain landscapes and healthy lifestyles. A haven for skiing enthusiasts and business majors, DU has gotten more selective in recent years.

The oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, the University of Denver is where former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice earned her B.A. in political science at age 19 and later returned for a Ph.D. in international studies. Her mentor was Soviet specialist Joseph Korbel, father of former secretary of state Madeline Albright. Thus, it’s not surprising that DU boasts strong programs in political science, international studies, and public affairs. Many students, however, opt for DU’s business program, and the campus location offers ample opportunities for networking, skiing, and taking in the beautiful Colorado landscape. “Students bring their exploration of the world into the classroom by being inquisitive and curious about their chosen fields,” observes a senior.

DU’s 125-acre main campus is located in a comfortable residential neighborhood only eight miles from downtown Denver and an hour east of major ski areas. Architectural styles vary and materials include brick, limestone, Colorado sandstone, and copper. Nearby Mount Evans (14,264 feet) is home to the world’s loftiest observatory, a DU facility available to both professors and students. A new facility for the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science recently opened, serving as a hub for interdisciplinary, STEM-related research and scholarship.

Under the general education requirements, undergraduate students choose from a series of courses from the Common Curriculum that emphasize writing and rhetoric, language, analytical inquiry, and scientific inquiry. “At first I thought, ‘Who wants to take these science, art, and English classes?’” explains a business major. “But now that I’ve completed the core, I feel better about myself and my world knowledge.” University rules stipulate that all core courses must be taught by senior faculty. Core courses are supplemented by a first-year seminar (limited to 15 students) and an advanced seminar, which serves as a capstone to the curriculum model. As part of their orientation, freshmen spend 10 hours with a small group of students and a professor discussing a collection of essays by prominent writers.

DU Student Perspective: Professors desire to become more like mentors to their students, rather than ‘that one professor who taught that one class.'"


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Enrollment: 1,894

Acceptance Rate: 73%

DETAILS: Attending Eckerd College demands a special sort of willpower. Why? In the words of an international business major: “We are right on the water, and it is like going to college in a resort.” With free canoes, kayaks, boats, coolers, and tents always available for student use, it’s a wonder anyone finds time to study. But study they do, as administrators continue to lure capable students to Eckerd with small classes, skilled professors, and a thriving social scene. “Few schools are located right on the beach,” says a sophomore. “It’s Eckerd’s paradise-like setting that seals the deal for most prospective students.”

Autumn Term, Eckerd’s version of freshman orientation, is a three-week term before the regular fall semester that introduces new students to the academic expectations and social responsibilities of the Eckerd community. First-years also take a yearlong course called Human Experience, which focuses on topics like justice, power, freedom, and global citizenship, and all students must meet composition, foreign language, information technology, oral communication, and quantitative skills requirements. Also required are one course in each of the four academic areas—arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences—plus one course each in environmental and global perspectives. The capstone senior seminar, organized around the theme “Imagining Justice,” asks students to draw on what they’ve learned during college to find solutions to important issues. Seniors present their capstone work at a festival in the spring. All students are also expected to complete at least 40 hours of community service before graduation; service opportunities are built into reflective service-learning courses that are offered in every major.

EC Student Perspective: “Although the classes are intellectually stimulating, engaging, and challenging, there is not too much competition among the students."

Hampshire College

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Enrollment: 1,256

Acceptance Rate: 63%

DETAILS: Passion reigns at Hampshire College. It’s found in just about everything students do—from devising their own courses to starting new clubs to debating the most current social issues. There’s no one way to do things at Hampshire, and the students revel in the freedom they have to direct the path of their education. “We love what we are studying because we get to choose what we are studying,” says a junior studying sustainable agricultural methods. Without the yoke of traditional majors and the nail-biting stress of regular grades, Hampshire offers a virtually boundary-free exercise in intellectual nirvana.

Hampshire was created in 1970 as an alternative college by four nearby colleges—Amherst, UMass, Mount Holyoke, and Smith—that now make up the Five College Consortium*. Instead of grades, Hampshire professors hand out “narrative evaluations,” which consist of written evaluations and critiques. Degrees are obtained by passing a series of examinations—not tests, but portfolios of academic work, evaluations, and students’ self-reflections on their academic development.

Given the emphasis on close working relationships with faculty and those “narrative evaluations,” the importance of qualified, attentive faculty is not to be underestimated. Students at Hampshire heap praise on their professors. “Professors at Hampshire are truly invested in their students,” one student says. The Hampshire academic year has fall and spring semesters, each four months long; an optional January term; and internships and other real-world experience are encouraged during all three.

HC Student Perspective: “We are not cookie-cutter students. We are students who passionately teach ourselves in a school that is deliberately unique and experimental."

Kalamazoo College

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Enrollment: 1,406

Acceptance Rate: 73%

DETAILS: Kalamazoo College is a small school in America’s heartland. But college subsidies enable the majority of students to go abroad during their years here, making the school a launching pad to the world. In addition to international education, the school’s K-Plan emphasizes teaching, internships (80 percent of students have at least one), and independent research (as seniors, all students complete a senior individualized project, with one-on-one faculty supervision). Students are exposed to a demanding academic schedule and high expectations from faculty. “K is a very rigorous place,” warns one student, “characterized by people who want to do well and are passionate about their work.”

Life on Kalamazoo’s wooded, 60-acre campus centers on the Quad, a green lawn where students ponder their destinies and play ultimate Frisbee with equal ease. With its rolling hills, Georgian architecture, and brick-laid streets, the campus has the quaint look more typical of historic New England than of nearby Kalamazoo, which, with surrounding communities, has 225,000 residents. A new 30,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center opened in 2016.

After their sophomore year, most of Kalamazoo’s undergrads meet life’s challenges with suitcase in hand, studying wherever their heart takes them, for the regular tuition price. The college offers three-, six-, and nine-month immersive study abroad programs that are available to all students, regardless of major; all credit earned during study abroad transfers back to Kalamazoo College. “I studied abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France, for nine months. I went to a French university, lived with a French family, and was completely immersed in French culture. It was a huge learning and growing experience, and I am very thankful to have been able to do it,” says one student. Seventy-five percent of students take part in study-abroad programs. In fact, Kalamazoo offers students the opportunity to study via dozens of programs in 26 countries. Kalamazoo’s Center for Experiential Education is another resource for information on careers, internships, and study abroad.

KC Student Perspective: “Professors here are also doing research or work in their fields, so you may be able to work in a professor’s lab during the school year or summer, or hear about their clinical practice in psychology, or learn about the process of writing a book."

Lawrence University

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Enrollment: 1,418

Acceptance Rate: 61%

DETAILS: Lawrence University is an unpretentious school that can appeal to both the left and right side of students’ brains. For those with an analytical bent, there is Lawrence’s uncommon physics program. More creative types can take advantage of the school’s renowned Conservatory of Music. “I came to Lawrence because I found no other school where I could seriously study music and academics,” says a senior. “At all the other schools, you had to pick one or the other.” It’s this eclectic, individualized approach to learning that attracts interested and interesting students from around the world. “Lawrence allows students to explore individual and intellectual interests in greater depth than most institutions,” confirms a neuroscience major.

Lawrence’s campus is on a wooded bluff above the Fox River, perfect for long walks, jogging, or simply meditating underneath the trees. It was chosen in 1847 by one of Appleton’s earliest settlers. The pristine 84-acre campus reflects several architectural styles of the past 150 years, including classical revival, 1920s Georgian-inspired, and 1950s and 1960s institutional, unified by their limestone color. The award-winning Wriston Art Center and the Conservatory’s Shattuck Hall of Music (both designed by Lawrence graduates) bring contemporary architectural touches to the campus. The university’s stadium has been revamped and now includes new seating, synthetic turf, and an LED scoreboard.

More than 50 years ago, administrators introduced the Freshman Studies program, a required two-term course that focuses primarily on the great works of art, music, and literature of both Western and non-Western origin and gives all incoming students a shared intellectual experience. General education requirements at Lawrence include Freshman Studies; distribution requirements; and diversity, foreign language, and writing-intensive courses. All seniors—in all degree programs—are required to produce a final project demonstrating proficiency in their major field of study.

LU Student Perspective: “Music is the unifying theme at Lawrence. Almost everybody plays it or studies it or likes to listen to it and talk about it.”


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Enrollment: 2,008

Acceptance Rate: 71%

DETAILS: The 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark struck out from Middle America to find where the trail ended, and their travels took them to Portland, a lush, green paradise by the Willamette River. The college that bears the explorers’ names encourages students to explore too. Since 1962, almost 12,000 students and 300 faculty members have participated in programs in 68 countries. Each year, Lewis & Clark offers more than 30 programs in different parts of the world. Without a doubt, Lewis & Clark students receive, as one junior puts it, “an excellent, hands-on education.”

Lest students become too enchanted overseas, Lewis & Clark lures them back with a gorgeous campus perched atop fir-covered bluffs overlooking the river. The campus is an old estate, complete with elaborate gardens, fountains, and pools, where cement is almost nonexistent and the roads are paved with cobblestones.

Lewis & Clark offers a Portfolio Path to admission, where students present a package representing their talents and interests. PP students supply two teacher recommendations and two graded samples of high school work: one quantitative sample and one analytical writing sample. The key to a good portfolio is a “well-rounded approach,” administrators say. “The more creative, the better, but be sure it’s not solely artwork or writing samples.”

L&C Student Perspective: “Most of the classes are small and discussion-based, so there is a lot of time for personal questions.”

Ohio Wesleyan University

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Enrollment: 1,549

Acceptance Rate: 71%

DETAILS: Ohio Wesleyan University is a small school with a big commitment to providing its students with a well-rounded education. OWU hallmarks include strong preparation for graduate and professional school, a solid grounding in the liberal arts, and an emphasis on having fun outside the classroom.

To graduate, OWU students must take a year of foreign language; three courses each in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities; one course in the arts; and one course in cultural diversity. Students must also pass three mandatory writing classes to sharpen their written communication skills, but these aren’t burdensome. Preprofessional education has always been Ohio Wesleyan’s forte. More than 80 percent of students applying to medical school are accepted. “The academics here are intense and challenging,” says one sophomore. The curriculum includes majors in neuroscience and health and human kinetics, and the highly popular zoology, psychology, and botany and microbiology departments are interesting alternatives to the traditional premed route. Dentistry, optometry, veterinary medicine, law, public administration, and theology round out the list of preprofessional offerings. The Woltemade Center for Economics, Business, and Entrepreneurship caters to budding entrepreneurs, and the music and fine arts programs offer both professional and liberal arts degrees. Classes are small, with 72 percent enrolling fewer than 20 students.

OWU Student Perspective: “The professors are very accessible and are willing to help students however they can.”

Rhodes College

THIS WEEK: Rhodes College

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Enrollment: 1,969

Acceptance Rate: 51%

DETAILS: Since 1848, Rhodes College has been instilling the timeless values of truth and honor in Southern sons and daughters, and today increasing numbers of students from the rest of the country are discovering its charms. The school’s honor code means exams are not proctored and backpacks are left unattended in the cafeteria. Its small size gives everyone an opportunity to take on leadership roles in campus clubs and organizations, and people are generally friendly. Throw in the college’s proximity to Memphis’s world-famous Beale Street, barbecue, and the blues, and it’s clear that Rhodes offers a winning combination. “Rhodes students are generally fun-loving people with passions for academic advancement and community engagement,” says a senior.

To receive a Rhodes degree, students must demonstrate proficiency in 12 areas that form the foundation of the liberal arts. These include being able to critically examine questions of meaning and value, developing excellence in written communication, and understanding how historical forces have shaped human cultures. A new, yearlong First Year Experience course is also required of freshmen.

Rhodes is especially strong in the natural and social sciences, thanks to labs with state-of-the-art equipment. Business is the most popular major, followed by biology, psychology, English, and neuroscience. Educational studies is the newest major available. Aside from traditional lecture-style classes, the college offers seminars, honors programs, one-on-one Directed Inquiry tutorials, and interdisciplinary majors. Rhodes is a member of the Associated Colleges of the South, and it participates in a second degree program for engineers with Washington University in St. Louis. The academic climate at Rhodes is “demanding and challenging,” according to one student. “Professors expect quality contributions.” Sixty-nine percent of classes have fewer than 20 students, which means professors are more than talking heads.

RC Student Perspective: "Every professor I’ve had has been very personable, available, interesting, and invested in the students.


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Enrollment: 4,371

Acceptance Rate: 74%

DETAILS: Unlike the University of Washington, Seattle U is a stone’s throw from downtown and within walking distance of the waterfront. Seattle U's tradition guarantees a nurturing environment and student growth both academically and in community service. Transitioning to a national institution but remains true to its humble roots. Out-of-staters are drawn as much by the city of Seattle as by the university itself.

Unlike the University of Washington, Seattle U is a stone’s throw from downtown and within walking distance of the waterfront. Jesuit tradition guarantees a nurturing environment and student growth both academically and in community service. Transitioning to a national institution but remains true to its humble roots. Out-of-staters are drawn as much by the city of Seattle as by the university itself.

SU Student Perspective: Students at Seattle University are interested in self-reflection and creating a better world once they leave the university."

Southwestern University

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Enrollment: 1,363

Acceptance Rate: 43%

DETAILS: To graduate, Southwestern students must complete a First-Year Seminar; one math or computer science course; one natural science course with a lab; and two each in humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and fitness and recreational activities. Students must also demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language and satisfy requirements around intercultural perspectives, social justice, and a capstone experience. All students participate in the Paideia program, whereby they pursue a particular theme, such as global health or gender identity, in multiple courses and thus come to see how the various disciplines are interconnected. A sociology and English double major explains, “It’s nice to be able to get a taste of how others may see and understand the world in various other disciplines.”

“The academic climate of Southwestern is rigorous but not competitive,” reports a junior. “Students go out of their way to help each other succeed.” Seventy-six percent of classes have fewer than 20 students, and professors are appreciated for their hard work and willingness to help students with course concepts and research opportunities. Academic support and career services are highly praised as well, from departmental student mentors, such as the SCI Guides in the natural sciences, to the comprehensive resources offered by the Office of Career Services, including one-on-one counseling, alumni panels, and campuswide internship and job fairs. “I definitely feel prepared for life after college because everything is a process that has been put in motion since I arrived my first semester,” says a junior.

SU encourages undergraduate research (75 percent of students participate), and each year holds a symposium to showcase students’ scholarly endeavors. The King Creativity Fund provides grants to support up to 20 “innovative and visionary projects” each academic year. Thirty-five percent of Southwestern’s students choose to study abroad, and SU hosts faculty-led programs in England, Spain, Peru, and Argentina, plus a service-learning program in Jamaica. The university also sponsors an internship program in Washington, D.C., and an arts apprenticeship program in New York City.

SU Student Perspective: “You learn to express and defend your opinions. I learned how to think.”

St. John's College

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Enrollment: 458

Acceptance Rate: 55%

DETAILS: With no traditional professors, departments, or majors, and a combined total of fewer than 1,000 students on its two campuses, St. John’s College is about as far from the typical post-secondary experience as you can get. Or maybe it’s much closer to what college used to be—after all, the Annapolis campus traces its roots to King William’s School—the Maryland colony’s “free” school—founded in 1696. More than two centuries later, in 1964, St. John’s opened a second campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to facilitate a doubling of enrollment and offer its super-serious students a change of scenery. While the campuses may be a thousand miles apart, the Johnnies who populate them share an all-consuming quest for knowledge in the classical tradition. Their true teachers are the Great Books, about 150 of the most influential works of Western civilization. “One of the beautiful things about the St. John’s program and its focus on the unchanging questions of mankind is that it changes very little,” says a student. “I appreciate the sense that I am studying something permanent and real.”

The St. John’s curriculum, known as “the program,” has every student read the Great Books in roughly chronological order. All students major in liberal arts, discussing the books in seminars, writing papers about them, and debating the riddles of human existence they raise. Classes are led by tutors, who would be tenured professors anywhere else, but here are just the most advanced students. Each tutor is required to teach any subject within the curriculum (resisting the general trend in American academia toward more and more specialization). As a group, the tutors help students divine wisdom from each other and from great philosophers and thinkers, from Thucydides and Tolstoy to Euclid and Einstein. “Because St. John’s is not a research institution, the tutor’s only job is teaching and engaging with students,” says one junior. Both campuses follow a curriculum that would have delighted poet and educator Matthew Arnold, who argued that the goal of education is “to know the best which has been thought and said in the world.”

There are no registration or scheduling hassles at St. John’s; the daily course of study is mapped out before students set foot on campus. The curriculum includes four years of mathematics, two years of ancient Greek and French, three years of laboratory science, two years of music, and, of course, four years of Great Books seminars. Freshmen study the Greeks, sophomores advance through the Romans and the Renaissance, juniors cover the 17th and 18th centuries, and seniors do the 19th and 20th centuries. Readings are from primary sources only: math from Euclid and Ptolemy, physics from Maxwell, psychology from Freud, and so on. For about seven weeks in the junior and senior years, seminars are suspended and students study a book or topic one-on-one with a tutor. The assumption is that the Great Books can stand on their own, representing the highest achievements of human intellect.

SJC Student Perspective: “There is a real sense of community and a collaborative feel to all of the academic work we do. Our class conversations carry over into the dining hall, the quad, the common rooms, and coffee shop.”

St. Olaf College

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Enrollment: 2,994

Acceptance Rate: 43%

DETAILS: St. Olaf provides a solid liberal arts education and plenty of opportunities to study abroad. One Ole describes her peers at St. Olaf as “Minnesota nice.”

Biology, mathematics, economics, chemistry, and psychology are the most popular majors and some of the school’s best. The music department draws high praise; it offers many performance opportunities with eight school choirs and seven instrumental ensembles. The choirs perform in major venues around the nation and can be heard singing with the Minnesota Orchestra. The Center for Integrative Studies allows students to form their own majors. The Conversation Programs are interdisciplinary, team-taught programs that bring together students and faculty with a broad range of academic interests for a critical exploration of specific topics within their historical, cultural, and social contexts. Programs include the Great Conversation, American Conversations, Asian Conversations, Environmental Conversations, the Science Conversation, and the Public Affairs Conversation. These programs, which can be one to two years in length, “take care of a ton of general requirements, but they are extremely rigorous,” warns one freshman.

Faculty members are highly praised by students. “There are some fantastic professors at St. Olaf, and almost all of them are accessible,” says an English major. Fifty-four percent of classes have fewer than 20 students, and instructors reportedly have as many as 10 hours of open-office time a week. Academically, students have their work cut out for them. “I consider it very rigorous,” admits one junior. Students look forward to the annual, stress-relieving study break where professors serve them ice cream.

SOC Student Perspective: “The typical St. Olaf student is fairly outgoing, extremely involved, and interested in trying new things. Everyone loves meeting new people and supporting one another.”


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Enrollment: 3,447

Acceptance Rate: 65%

DETAILS: University of the Pacific looks like more than 100 acres of New England plunked down in California wine country. With its stately combination of redbrick and ivy, it could be mistaken for an East Coast liberal arts college. But instead of a blanket of snow, Pacific is surrounded by the lush greenery of the San Joaquin Valley. On campus, this increasingly competitive bastion of learning offers its 3,600 undergrads a solid and diverse academic program and scores of things to do when not hitting the books.

With majestic evergreens and flowering trees, Pacific is home to six undergraduate schools and the College of the Pacific, the university’s liberal arts and sciences division. There is also a school of law in Sacramento and a superlative school of dentistry in San Francisco. A biological sciences building provides 54,000 square feet of space for the biological sciences program.

The university-wide general education program has three components: the Pacific seminars, the breadth program, and fundamental skills. All entering students must complete Pacific Seminar I (What Is a Good Society?) and Pacific Seminar II (Topical Seminars on a Good Society) in sequence during their first year, and Pacific Seminar III (The Ethics of Family, Work, and Citizenship) in their senior year. In addition to the seminars, students must complete six or nine courses in the breadth program and must demonstrate competence in writing, math, and reading. Strong departments abound in the schools of engineering, pharmacy, education, and business (with special programs in the arts/entertainment management and entrepreneurship). The sciences, English, communication, and international studies are also strong. A freshman says, “The best academic departments tend to be prepharmacy, predentistry, and the health, exercise, and sports sciences programs, because they do an astounding job of preparing students for their future professions.” Students may also design their own majors with faculty approval.

UOP Student Perspective: The faculty members are very accessible and always willing to help."


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Enrollment: 2,390

Acceptance Rate: 84%

DETAILS: An ambitious building program and revised core curriculum have raised the profile of the University of Puget Sound, transforming it from a regional liberal arts college in Tacoma to an undergraduate institution with growing national reach. What hasn’t changed is the school’s close-knit community and its emphasis on Asia. “People don’t come here because they have heard of us before,” says one contented senior. “They come here because they visit and they don’t want to leave.”

Puget Sound students must complete an eight-course core curriculum, which includes a freshman seminar in writing and rhetoric, and another in scholarly and creative inquiry; they must also demonstrate foreign language proficiency. In their first three years at Puget Sound, students also study five Approaches to Knowing—fine arts, humanities, math, natural sciences, and social sciences. An upper-level capstone course, Connections, challenges traditional disciplinary boundaries and examines the benefits and limits of an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

The university has developed a reputation as a jumping-off point to Asia—both literally and figuratively. Its curriculum stresses two of the fastest-growing fields in the region: Asian studies and Pacific Rim economics. Nearly one-third of Puget Sounders take at least one Asian studies course, and once every three years, there’s a nine-month, school-sponsored trip through Japan, Thailand, Korea, India, China, and Nepal, where participants study native art, architecture, politics, population, and philosophy. In all, more than 100 study abroad programs are available in more than 40 nations; 34 percent of students participate. Other special offerings include a classics-based honors program, the Business Leadership Program, residence-based humanities programs, and the Social Justice Residence Program.

UPS Student Perspective: ““The vibe is laid-back, but purposeful at the same time. People who come to this school are passionate and love to share those passions with others.”

University of Redlands

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Enrollment: 2,439

Acceptance Rate: 75%

DETAILS: Amid the dozens of gigantic and well-known universities in the state of California stands the University of Redlands. With its innovative living/learning college and strong preprofessional emphasis, this versatile school is one of higher education’s better-kept secrets, and a place where students receive all the personal attention and intellectual stimulation they could want. One student describes it as a “small liberal arts college in sunny Southern California with great financial aid packages.”

Redlands’s most distinctive attribute is the experimental living/learning college, where students create their own course of study and are judged by professor and self-evaluations rather than grades. The Johnston Center for Integrative Studies was established in 1969 to function as an “alternative” college within a traditional setting; now that it is a program rather than a separate college, about 10 percent of the students take advantage of this opportunity. The program offers unusual academic freedom; there are no departments, majors, or distribution requirements. Instead, students “contract” with professors for their entire plan of study. At the beginning of each course, students make up the syllabus by consensus and then set their own research and writing goals. Each student develops four-year goals—which are reviewed by a student/faculty board for direction and breadth—within one or more broad areas: the social sciences, behavioral sciences, humanities, and fine and performing arts.

UR Student Perspective: “Education becomes a conversation, and students' original ideas are not only allowed but encouraged.”

Ursinus College

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Enrollment: 1,485

Acceptance Rate: 78%

DETAILS: Ursinus is located in Collegeville, about 40 minutes west of Philadelphia, and 10 miles from the green, rolling hills of Valley Forge National Park. Buildings on the 170-acre campus are mostly constructed of Pennsylvania fieldstone; many have had their interiors upgraded and their exteriors preserved and restored. Actors and dancers benefit from rehearsal and exhibition space in the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center.

General education requirements at Ursinus fall under the college’s Plan for Liberal Studies, and they are grounded in the assumption that while individuals have intrinsic value, they also live in a community. Therefore, the core includes two semesters of the Common Intellectual Experience—a course that explores topics from Plato to Buddhist scripture to Nietzsche—as well as requirements in science, culture, and history. Students also engage in at least one Independent Learning Experience—a research project, an internship, study abroad, or student teaching—before graduation, and they must complete a capstone course in their major. For honors students, the requirements are more stringent; their independent projects are evaluated by outside examiners.

Students choose among nearly 30 majors, with the most popular being business and economics, biology, psychology, and media and communication studies. The college also offers strong programs in neuroscience, health and exercise physiology, and politics and international relations. The academic climate is largely dependent on the course of study. “Most people are very focused on their academics, which does create a competitive environment,” says a senior. “However, a lot of people are keen on working together and collaborating both in and outside of the classroom.” A biology major says, “The professors want their students to succeed and really aid in the growth of the students.” Classes are small—75 percent have fewer than 20 students—and students say they are pleased with the quality of teaching, especially since there are no TAs. “The relationships I have with my professors are more personal than I could have ever expected coming into college,” says a junior.

UC Student Perspective: “Ursinus’s culture is one of inquisitive learning through experimentation and discussion with peers that brings students together in a small campus atmosphere."


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Enrollment: 864

Acceptance Rate: 63%

DETAILS: Wabash was founded in Indiana in 1832 by transplanted Ivy Leaguers who shared the Enlightenment’s optimistic view of human nature and envisioned a “classical and English high school rising into a college as soon as the wants of the country demand.” Their vision proved to be on target. All-male Wabash has not only prospered but also remained true to its conservative academic and social traditions, including the Gentleman’s Rule code of self-responsibility that students continue to live by. “Wabash College has a culture that has not changed for 50 years. It can be a hard school to fit into if you do not meet the status quo, but it also is a brotherhood,” says a junior.

The Wabash educational program has certainly proved itself over the years. This small college has amassed an impressive list of alumni: executives of major corporations, doctors, lawyers, and a large number of Ph.D.s. Wabash alumni are typically faithful to their school in the form of generous donations. On a per-capita basis, the school’s $355 million endowment makes it one of the wealthiest in the nation. This financial security enables Wabash to refuse any federal aid, with the exception of Pell Grants, which go directly to students; of the most recent freshman class, 23 percent qualify.

General education requirements include courses from a wide variety of fields—natural and behavioral sciences, literature and fine arts, mathematics, language studies, and a course on cultures and traditions. All freshmen take a tutorial in the fall that is designed to focus them on reading, writing, and class participation, followed by a colloquium titled Enduring Questions in the spring. All seniors complete comprehensive examinations in their final semester, consisting of two days of written exams in their major and an hour-long oral exam on their overall liberal arts experience.

WC Student Perspective: “The workload is tough, but anywhere you look you can find help. The resources at this college are endless."


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Enrollment: 1,455

Acceptance Rate: 52%

DETAILS: Whitman has quietly established itself as one of the West’s leading liberal arts colleges. Don’t bother with the umbrella: Walla Walla is in arid eastern Washington. Whitman’s isolation breeds community spirit and alumni loyalty. True to its liberal arts heritage, Whitman has no business program. Combines outdoorsy camaraderie with the slower pace of life in the rural Northwest.

You don’t have to own a Frisbee to succeed at Whitman, but if you’ve got one, bring it along—you’ll find a campus full of friendly students eager to toss it back to you. Though it isn’t well known outside the Pacific Northwest, Whitman offers a top-notch liberal arts education, along with plenty of fun for outdoorsy types. Students are down-to-earth and friendly and feel a deep loyalty to one another—and to their school. “The Whitman community is more supportive and inspiring than I would have thought possible,” says a senior. “Here you can grow and excel to your absolute potential.”

Whitman Student Perspective: “Classes are generally difficult, but in a way that encourages cooperation among students rather than a malicious competition where grades and rank are most important.'


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Enrollment: 1,752

Acceptance Rate: 89%

DETAILS: Willamette is strategically located next door to the Oregon state capitol and 40 minutes from Portland. Bigger than Whitman, smaller than U of Puget Sound, and more civic-minded than Lewis & Clark, Willamette offers extensive study abroad enhanced by ties to Asia. Well-known in the West but has yet to develop a national reputation to equal that of competitors such as Lewis & Clark.

The 61-acre campus is home to full trees (thanks to Oregon’s omnipresent rain), small wildlife, and occasionally steelhead salmon that splash around in the Mill Stream that runs between WU’s redbrick academic buildings. Zena Forest is a 300-acre outdoor laboratory used by hundreds of students each term. Ford Hall is a LEED Gold–certified building featuring large, collaborative learning spaces and faculty offices. The Sparks Fitness Center was recently remodeled.

All students at Willamette (pronounced “Will-AM-it”) complete the freshman College Colloquium seminar, four writing-centered courses, two courses in quantitative and analytical reasoning, study in a language other than English, and coursework in six modes of inquiry—the natural world; the arts; arguments, reasons, and values; thinking historically; interpreting texts; and understanding society. Students also take capstone senior seminars, often culminating in research or thesis projects. The most popular majors are economics, politics, exercise science, and psychology. Other particularly strong programs include biology, theatre, Japanese studies, and history. The management and law schools offer 3–2 (B.A./M.B.A.) and 3–3 (B.A./J.D.) programs that integrate the liberal arts and professional education.

WU Student Perspective: This is the place where you can grow as a student, leader, and person as you pursue your passions."

The College of Wooster

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Enrollment: 1,959

Acceptance Rate: 56%

DETAILS: Instead of teaching students what to think, The College of Wooster focuses on teaching students how to do it. From the first freshman seminar to the final day when seniors hand in their theses, the college paves each student’s path to independence. The emphasis here is on global perspectives, mentored research, and the heritage that stems from its origin as a college founded by Scottish Presbyterians. The one-on-one attention from faculty makes Wooster an intellectual refuge in the rural countryside of Ohio. “Mentorship and collaboration are pervasive across campus,” says a history major. “Students are constantly interacting with their peers, faculty advisors, and other community members in an effort to gather diverse perspectives and motivate their learning.”

What goes on behind the facades of Wooster’s attractive buildings is more impressive than the structures themselves. The required First-Year Seminar in Critical Inquiry, limited to 15 students per section, introduces students to intensive writing, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary study. Recent section topics include The Drugs We Drink: Biological and Societal Perspectives; Heating Up the Planet: Response to a Catastrophe; and The History of the Future. In addition to the first-year seminar, three semesters of Independent Study, and six cross-discipline courses, Wooster mandates courses in writing, global and cultural perspectives, religious perspectives, and quantitative reasoning, foreign language proficiency, and seven to nine courses in the student’s major.

The College of Wooster is nationally recognized for its commitment to mentored research and its international focus. Wooster students are proud to be Fighting Scots and independent thinkers. And as a political science major explains, the college’s distinctive Independent Study requirement actively shapes both the individual student experience and the campus atmosphere: “Having that big project on the horizon from the day you enroll changes the way you engage with your education, and I think that brings an element of intensity, dedication, and commitment to the academics at Wooster.”

College of Wooster Student Perspective: “Classes frequently require collaborative work to complete assignments, and students often work together in a relaxed environment that focuses simultaneously on building connections as well as growing academically.”


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